Never Heard of ‘Em? #17 – Battle Ave.

by Matt Meade


I think I am having some kind of existential crisis.  I am lying on the floor of my bedroom with my headphones on, staring at the ceiling, like I am some highschooler.  I am typing this review into my phone as one super long text.  My thumbs are like manic ping-pong flippers as I try to type all of this without my phone shutting down.  I only have 11% of my battery left and it’s dropping fast.  I am sending this to you specifically because you are one of my best friends in the world and you are one of the few people in the world who can know what I am going through.  It’s just you and Jesse Alexander from Battle Ave.  (I told you I was acting like a high school kid).

Sneering his defiantly fragile vocals, each word is like a rotten egg smashed against the side of a house on Halloween.  Alexander sure seems like he is going through something too.  His parents just broke up, or he got molested, or the guy he loves just hooked up with the prom queen or something.  He is falling apart just like me, so these songs are just the right blend of abandon and melodrama for me right now.

You know how I am always talking about, “Show me the seams.”?  How I am always complaining about those pre-set effects, pro-tools drum tracks, and too-precise transitions from the second chorus into a bridge?  You know how I don’t like it when things are slick and flawless sounding and how I’d rather hear dumb rhymes and real life heart breaks than slick production and properly tuned guitars?  How I would rather see pimply faces and hear failed experiments than see really gorgeous musicians playing something safe?

Well, Battle Ave.’s best song, “Puke Lust” is A) called “Puke Lust,” B) is basically verseless and C) starts with a do-over.

Yeah. I know.  Perfect for me, right?

It really gets my juices flowing.  If it’s artifice it’s the kind of artifice that belies the truth. And if it’s real?  If it’s real, then it’s delicious

And you should hear their 2009 demo-debut.  It has more hisses and croaks than the Reptiles & Amphibians exhibit at the Lincoln Park Zoo.  The hiccupping rhythms, blasting guitars, and howling vocals are exactly the kind of bat-shit authenticity I like in my music.  Most of it is out of tune and the songs go on for too long, but god damn if they aren’t having fun.  It makes sense that they would clean it all up for their 2011 release Warpaint, which I would dare to call very competently recorded.  It’s nice and I like it better, but I do kind of miss the amateurishness of 2009’s Batcep (+1). Even the name of the EP stinks of youthful disregard for convention and total contempt for the concept of marketability.

But, like I said, the 2011 effort is stronger.  The female vocals that accompany Alexander in “Puke Lust,” “K Divorce,” and an unpronounceable song listed as “**,” are unmistakably the voice of an ex, come to torture us.  The juxtaposition works great as a way of ratcheting up the tension.  It’s a wonder his voice doesn’t fall apart on us; he screams through most of the songs with little regard for his own well-being.  He’s even gone the extra step of gargling motor oil and chewing on gravel just to get the blood flowing.

Adam Stoutenburgh, the guitarist replacing Vaughn O’Loughlin on War Paint, is partial to ascending scales that he climbs like they are the stairs of a very tall building where there is a party on the roof.  He isn’t going to let little things like the collusion of the world bank and the IMF, the systematic deconstruction of social safety nets, the rise of vapidity in our cultural touchstones, the inevitable rise of sea levels, decimation of the ozone layer, the break down of our economic system and all that other garbage on the news, keep him from getting to his destination.  There is beer up there after all.

I know these guys, or at least I used to know them when I was young and desperate to squander my youth on getting drunk and trying to get girls to go skinny dipping with me.  These songs are the soundtrack of some juvenile delinquent’s first forays into criminal mischief.  I feel like I am in the room with them as they record this record.  I can smell the sweat on their backs, hear the bottles clatter across the cement floors.

Only 7% left on my phone.  Just enough time to tell you that the bass lines are really mean.  The guitar flirts with elation.  Transcendence even.  It is the trilling shout of someone in love, someone with the wind in their face, someone staring down the morning.  There is something simultaneously old and new about the band, something that comes out of a deep need to connect, but a deep distrust of the status quo.  Also, the drummer sounds like she is hitting the drum with a fucking club.  Plus, the band makes use of horns in a way that makes me feel sorry for myself, which I love.  The band asks the questions that rock and roll bands have been asking on behalf of the youth for generations: “How do we kill our idols and also get what we need from them?”

Oh no.  That thing just happened where all of a sudden I only have 4% left.  Time to attach adjectives to influences rather than actually trying to describe the band itself.

This band sounds like the Arcade Fire if they weren’t Canadian.

These folks sound like Foster the People if they were starving to death.  With horns.

Umm… MGMT if they weren’t signed to a major label.

This is a band that sound like Titus Andronicus if they weren’t dressed up like civil war re-enactors

When it comes down to it, I know I like these guys because when the record ends I am sad.  What more could you ask for from a band when you are undergoing an existential crisis?

I only have 2% left, so I think it’s enough time to tell you that they had song available on their bandcamp site for a while. It was called The Sun and the singer moaned and sulked his way through it that way only real sad sacks can.  The song was a real slow burn.  It reminds me of this time I was really young, like 5 or 6 and my brother and I were at the park near our house, heading home at dusk as the sky got darker and darker. It felt more and more like criminals escaping capture since there were signs everywhere that made It clear we were not to be in the park after sundown.  Once the sun was gone it was nice because we were energized by the darkness, but it was sad because the sun was gone and the day was over.  Battle Ave.  took the song down for some reason, and it is sort of a perfect metaphor for how I feel about this band.  What else am I supposed to expect?  What else does the sun do, but go away?


Twitter: @battleaveband


Best Track: “Puke Lust”

New Release: 7″ split with Pelican Movement coming in January of 2015  

CORRECTION: December 19th, 2015

Vaughn O’Loughlin was the guitar player for the 2009 demo, but since the 2011 release War Paint, the lead has been Adam Stoutenburgh. OSRR regrets the mistake and also thinks that Stoutenburgh’s lead playing is tasteful and, at times, sexy.

Also, the 7″ split release will be released in conjunction with Kevin S. McMahon’s “fictitious solo project” from upstate NY Pelican Movement, not the Chicago based Post-rock outfit, Pelican.

The article has been updated to reflect these corrections.  OSRR regrets these and any other errors, including thinking, for a time, that Neve Campbell and Gena Gershon were the same person.

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